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Before the Disaster


[Pages 337-344]

This is How I Remember my City

Moshe Yishai



Częstochowa – how many memories are linked with it? We came to this city to settle in it on a winter's day in 1902. My mother's uncle had been appointed its Chief Rabbi and the family decided that my father should move there to help him in his difficult duties and to serve as Head of [the rabbinical] Court.

Our apartment was in a Jewish house, the landlord – a baker. The building led out to two streets and we lived in the inner courtyard, in front of the bakery. The courtyard was surrounded by two–story residential houses on every side and, only above the bakery, which was in a half–cellar, there were no dwellings.

In front of the bakery was a stairwell, which descended two floors down into a cellar, where the flour storeroom was located. We, the children, played in this courtyard, running around the bakery, sometimes listening to the tumult surging forth from within it.

In the winter evenings, we – the boys of the courtyard, sat on the threshold steps and told one another tales of demons and ghosts, pirates, kidnappers who took children to churches and more.

And where would we boys, the Israelite sons of Israelites, learn but in a cheder? The cheder was far off, on ul. Nadrzeczna Street, and its courtyard was open to the Warta River. In the wintertime, we played, as usual, on the ice. And before the Rebbe arrived for the lesson, we all went out to skate on the ice. The Rebbe came and did not find us. He then went out through the yard to the river and called us, “Come, scoundrels, to the Torah! You may not lark about at the expense of Torah study!”

We hid behind the clumps of frozen ice on the river and did not come. The Rebbe then attempted to come after us, walking with his cane like a blind man. He crossed the river bank and thrust forth his cane – which fell into a hole in the ice, from which the house's residents drew their water – and he fell flat, sprawling over the entire hole. We all panicked and came out, vociferously, to rescue him. The Rebbe, meanwhile, had broken an arm – his right hand. We escorted him, groaning, to his home. We then returned to the cheder (we were, after all, not allowed to go home until after seven o'clock in the evening) and, again, went out to skate on the ice.

And where are those days, when the Polish Jewry's sun had risen? Just in this [one] city, there were synagogues for the burghers, a synagogue for the assimilationists, a study–hall, and countless shtieblech; a “Zamir” [Heb.; Nightingale] club, a Hebrew club, three Zionist parties and five other parties – and also the Bund and Zionist–Socialists and Social–Democrats; a Hebrew high school, Hebrew schools, a Talmud Torah [municipal cheder], crafts schools, a farm for agricultural studies and a daily newspaper in Yiddish; gala evenings in Hebrew and Yiddish, cafés, halls [and] weddings – hundreds – after all, there were thirty–five thousand Jews in this city! And the Kehilla? A Chief Rabbi, a Head of Court and three judges, two [Chassidic] Rebbes, some ten shoichets [and] a multitude of holy vessels[1]. Who could count them [all]?

And who doesn't remember the Zionist war in the city?

And how great was our joy when we were permitted to celebrate Herzl Day at the assimilationists' synagogue! The Zionist message in this synagogue, too! And the war of the elections to the Sejm? The sun of Polish Jewry was at its zenith. Its waters surged, and they were bountiful waters, like the waters which permeate the fields, causing an abundance of fruits and flowers to sprout forth.

And then we found ourselves in the latter part of the First World War. The Zionist Movement in Poland was at its full force. Dr Thon Jehoszua put forth a four–clause demand for cultural autonomy and, in our city, we requisitioned the Kehilla Council to join this petition. With us was Izaak Szwajger (Demiel [a writer]) – he presented the demand and I stood behind him. In those days, when the Germans were retreating from Poland, the Jewish population was in danger, because the country was without a government. [The previous] one had fallen and a new one had not as yet arisen.

Each city organised a militia to maintain order in its own jurisdiction. Polish youth was called to arms. In our city, the editor of the Polish, antisemitic newspaper was a young man who, according to his age, was required to join the “fighting” army. But, for some reason, he preferred to remain a journalist and hammer the Jews. A Security Council was then established for the city, which consisted of three Poles and two Jews. We organised the defence of the Jewish quarter and participated in the General Security Council. The landlord of the building in which we lived, who had a grudge against me, was also voted onto the council on behalf of the Poles.

At night, I could not sleep[2]. My mother's uncle, the Chief Rabbi, lived some five buildings away from the hotel. He had five sons and four daughters. None of them survived, except for three granddaughters and one grandson – from a daughter. The Rabbi's surname had been effaced from the earth.

There was another family in this city with many children – seventeen offspring from one father and one mother. Before the War, three of them had left and wandered off to other lands. All the rest are no more, their memory has been erased. A third family, one of the city's prominent ones – among its first Zionists, industrialists – was completely obliterated. Only a grandson survived – from a daughter – and he is in Israel. There were those prolific in Torah [study], [observance of] the precepts and good deeds – all were struck and obliterated by Satan's hand.

The desire suddenly awoke in me to see everything, to drink the poisoned cup to its dregs. In the morning. I arose with a clear resolve – those who had survived needed to show me every place, each corner where something had occurred, in connection with the memory of our People, who had been there and had been annihilated, who had lived and who were now dead.

“Do you wish to see where the Holocaust began for us? Let us travel to the cemetery”.

A carriage tethered to two horses drove me, with two of my companions. From the hotel, we went out on the first Aleja [and], from there, to the Nowy Rynek, up to the church. Next to it, we made a turn into a narrow and short, little street and reached what had once been the Stary Rynek. In those days, the suburb that stretched to the river began here. It was the suburb which was entirely settled by the Children of Israel. Here, my heart broke – from this place and all the way to the river – islands of debris, huge piles of bricks which had toppled over and covered the entire ground around them, just like in the Warsaw ghetto. Not a trace of a house, not a trace of a street – only uninhabited territory, which even the carriage found difficult to negotiate.

“Is this the ghetto?”

“Yes, this was the ghetto at the start of the war”.

I then alighted from the carriage, and a landsleit, from those days, led me through the piles and the paths between them to ul. Nadrzeczna.

“Here, you see”, said my companion, “this is the street. Here was the cheder, here stood the yeshivah, which was headed by your father, whom people called Der Wolier Ruv [The Rabbi of Wola] (a reminder of the fact that he had previously been a rabbi in Wola, a suburb of Warsaw).”

We continued on the path that had been created amidst the avalanche of bricks along the thoroughfare and we approached the site where the synagogue and the study–hall had been situated.

All around were ruins. Everywhere the eye turned – ruins, ruins – not a trace of residential houses and not a trace of the shops. There was no Jew walking about the city either – no long caftan, no beard, and certainly no traditional hat. The ambience had changed its visage.

From here, we crossed the bridge over the Warta and turned left, towards the cemetery. I walked amid the rows of graves. Lo and behold, some names were familiar – the tomb of Rabbi Asz, his brother–in–law and his sister; that of Chaim Weksler – leader of the Kehilla Council, whose only daughter studied medicine, arrived in Jerusalem, and died there in her prime. The tombs of the city's first Zionists – Horowicz and Gerichter, the Klajnmans – the assimilationist physicians Kohn, Russ, and Broniatowski and the city's worthies. Who could count [all] their names?

I walked amongst those graves and it was as if I was walking amongst the years of my youth – bygone days, never to return. We went onwards, until reaching the southern wall. Alongside it, I find ten mass burials. Each grave contained twelve bodies. Next to each grave was a small plaque with the names of those who had found their eternal rest there. And these were the first 120, the finest of the Jewish intelligentsia, which Hitler's troops took, at the start of the War, from the city's Jewish quarter and, on 20th March 1943, under the guise of transport abroad – to the Land of Israel, they and their households were all loaded onto vehicles and were actually driven here, to this wall, where they were lined up in several rows, with a volley of bullets putting an end to their lives. And indeed, they met “happy” deaths – they had come to a Jewish grave and had not passed through the Seven Circles of Hitler's Hell, before the destroyer cut them down.

And I read their names[3]: Dr Alfred Anisfeld; Dr Bernard Epsztein, his wife and two children; Dawid Borzykowski; Dr Mojżesz Blumenfeld, his wife and two sons; Jerzy Bodzechowski; Dr Ajzyk Broniatowski; Mania Broniatowska and her son; Natan Dawid Berliner; Dr Barczyński and his wife; Jeremiasz Gitler and his two children; Dr Leon Gutman; Dr Stefan Gliksztein and his wife; Maurycy [Galster;] [Jerzy Galster; Dr Leon Glater;] Kruza Grunwald; [Dawid] Geszikter– lawyer in training, [and his wife]; Jakub Horowicz and his wife; [Dr Mojżesz] Halleman, his wife and children; Eugeniusz Hamerman; Adv. Marek Weinberg and his wife; [Rachela Weisberg;] Dr Eliasz Wiener, his wife and two children; Dr Wolf Warmund, his wife and son; Jakub Zylbersztein; Dr Hilary Zandsztein his wife and son; [Dr Jakub Zeif, his wife and son;] Wilhelm Żerykier; Dr Pola Chajutin[–Rozenzaft]; Dr Bernard Tenenbaum, his wife and son; Róża Tenenbaum; Dr [Julian] Trauner; Dr Dawid Kagan, his wife and son; Dr Adolf Lewenhof; Eugenia Lewin; Dr Mieczysław Lewin; Dr Zygmunt Lipiński, his wife and daughter; Dr Julian Lipiński and his wife; Eng. Landau[4]; Dr Leon Lampel and his wife; Róża Sobol [–Kopińska ] and her son; [Januszek Edelist;] Dr [Dawid] Falk, his wife and daughter; Dr Szymon Pohorille, his wife and two children; Bernard Firstenfeld and his wife; Eng. Henryk Feiner; Stefania Ferster; Dr Stanislaw Praport, his wife and son; Dr Marian Kijak, his wife and son; Leon Kopiński, his wife and son; Maurycy Kopiński, his wife and two children; Bernard Kurland, his wife and daughter; Dr Henryk Krauskopf, his wife and two children; Rozen, his wife and daughter; [Dawid] Richter; Fela Rotbard; Zelig Rotbard and his wife; Dr Alfred Szykier, his wife and son; Dr Maurycy Sztajnic and his wife; Izio Tatarka; Michaś Szancer [; Roman Szpigielman;].

They were all of my own generation or even younger. Many of them had gone with me to cheder and yeshivah, and we had been together in the Zionist associations. Together we dreamed and fought and we yearned – together, we awaited the Independence of our Land and an exalted future for humanity!

Here and there were ruined graves, scattered rocks. The hand of desolation and devastation had touched them, too. The carriage hastened to cross the ghetto area and we turned on ul. Warszawska – towards the Street of the Frogs [ul. Żabia]. “Here lie the bones of six thousand souls”.

The yard belonged to a Pole, a vegetable grower. During the War, the Germans had dug there, where the bones of six thousand souls had found their burial. There are no lists. No one knows who is buried there. The Kehilla Council, when it was reinstituted after the War, approached the Pole with the request that he not sow the plot, as it was a mass grave, to which he replied, “The land is mine and I shall do with it as I please”.

Then, exhausting negotiations ensued with that Pole that he should agree to part with his plot of land, that he should name his price and he sum which he demanded for it was so great, that the Kehilla Council, together with the local branch of the Central Council of Polish Jewry, were unable to pay it. So, the Pole continued using the land and the bones of six thousand Jewish victims fertilised his vegetables – they were among the best in town!

We continued onwards and came to [ul.] Wały [ed: he must be referring here to ul. Wilsona] – near the assimilationist synagogue [ed: the New Synagogue]. It was destroyed, only the outer walls remained. How magnificent this synagogue's interior furnishings and decorations had been!

We [then] came to ul. Spadek – now Garibaldiego – to the building that had been erected on this street by the Kehilla Council, not long before the First World War, following the plans of my father z”l and under his supervision – the mikvah building. My father worked like an ant to construct this edifice, which became the pride of the entire vicinity – and what was it now? That same building now serves as the Częstochowa Kehilla Centre. It contains the rabbi's living quarters, a school for Jewish youth, a synagogue and also a soup kitchen. The community's survivors, who returned after the Holocaust and have no bread to eat at home, receive three meals a day there.

The carriage sped onwards and took me, again, back to the Aleje – to the First, Second and Third, to the Mayor (who they say he is a Jew from Lwów, but he is a Pole to all appearances) [and] to the Polish lawyer Paciorkowski, who was my teacher in the years 1914–15 and who prepared me for admission to the high school. All through the War, he had been held captive in Germany and he returned crushed and broken. And to the lawyers, the H. couple who, during the First World War, had been in the Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair movement and who had now returned to work to their professions in this city. They took me to a Jewish barbershop, the owner being the barber himself. He remembered me from the old days and I was forced to have a haircut. Of all the Jewish shops which had been on the Aleje, this barbershop is the only one remaining. In the owner's eyes, this was a privilege.

In the afternoon and evening hours, [we went] to lectures. We gathered in the hall of the mikvah building's synagogue. I mentioned forgotten events: the war of the political parties in bygone days – Zionists and Bundists – a generation's self–examination, Zionism and its achievements and the Bund and its failures. I then came to the dormitory for the youth awaiting Aliyah. This dormitory had, in those days, been the Chief Rabbi's living quarters. Oh! How many times had I been in these quarters! Every room was familiar to me – I remembered each and every corner. Here, we youths had sat. Here we had played cards. Here we had read books. Here had been the prayer group at the rabbi's home and here had been his dining–room, from whose table food was never lacking. Day and night, guests were at his table, whether relatives or friends – everyone had a place, a glass of tea or a drink and “something to chew”.

Now, there was a long table in the dining–room and, along its entire length and all around it, were youth waiting to hear news from Israel. I told them about the Second Aliyah[5], of ships capsizing on the high seas, of the yearning of the generation to participate in the project of building [the country] and of the audaciousness expressed by rowing to the beaches of Palestine.

The youth listened attentively and, at the end of the speech, they burst into song: “Zug nisht az di gaist dem letzten weg…” [Yid; “Don't say that you are going on the last journey”]

From the book “Envoy to the Land of the Holocaust”
(Records of a journey to Poland on behalf of the Jewish Agency in 1964)

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Viz. Torah scholars and prominent religious personalities. Return
  2. Henceforth, the author obviously writes of post–Second World War days. Return
  3. We have corrected the mistakes of the original Hebrew, and added some victims the author omitted, from the original list in Polish. Return
  4. Eng. Landau is not in the original list in Polish. Return
  5. Between 1904 and 1914. Return

[Pages 343-352]

The Bygone Częstochowa Community

Szaja Landau

The bygone Częstochowa community – with the tragic inference of these words – like many other communities in Eastern Europe, was built and developed over the course of centuries, with each generation adding its own layer, drawing from the roots of its predecessors and passing on to the next generation, in the sense that “each generation speaks with the other[1]”.

This said, I think that it would not be an exaggeration to state that the Częstochowa community was set apart by the distinct characteristic of being multifaceted, meaning that all the currents of the public sphere and all of the distinct elements of a consolidated national [viz. Zionist] group, were well represented within it. This phenomenon was manifest both in the social arena and in commercial and cultural life.

Perhaps this development may be attributed, to some extent, to the very special circumstances of the city being a focal point and a centre for Christian worship which, in turn, gave birth to diversified modes of defence against the hostile environment. And maybe the geographic location – between two large cultures – also contributed its share. But whatever be the reason, the final result was that the life of the community incorporated currents and tendencies which were similar to each other, together with those which stood in opposition to one another.

Unlike other localities in the Eastern European Diaspora, where one encountered monolithic groups – here Chassidim, there Misnagedim and so forth – Częstochowa did not lack any of the essential elements of community life, which had a place in the life of the European Jewry.

It is impossible to cover, in full detail, all this effervescent Jewish community's social and cultural activities, which were reflected, among other things, in the mighty currents of expression, in writing and in speaking – preachers, maggidim and Halachic authorities on the one hand and men of letters and writers on the other – with, at the centre of attention as regards the everyday interest in written material, two widely distributed weekly periodicals, which regularly brought together and reflected the life of the community, their events, news and innovations. We should mention that one of these two weeklies represented a clear Zionist agenda.


Youth Groups

In all its facets, the National Awakening flourished in the pre–War years, starting from educational cultural activities and culminating in multi–branched political activism.

The first days of the organised National Revival already found, in Częstochowa, a small nucleus of activists and the city was among the first in the Tzeirei Zion movement.

Youth groups, the Zionist and others also, which had concentrated within them the best of the student and working youth, deserve to be remembered favourably. This chapter should also include the Ha'Chalutz movement, which was the tree from which sprung forth the branches of the settlement of Israel, with their currents and political parties. In fact, the welcome youthful ebullience actually began at an even earlier stage. In the city's public schools – named after Sienkiewicz and Traugutt – the Jewish students were the ones who distinguished themselves and excelled the most, both in their studies and in the many youth groups, from which future activists grew, who eventually came to fill all the ranks in the wide public sphere – in all its diversity.

Their Song of Life continually wove dreams, embroidered plans and nurtured aspirations, while the years, in themselves, brought experience and [taught] lessons.


Public Life

In the public arena, the involvement of Częstochowa Jews in all fields of life – the national and the political – reflected [the fact that they were] a racial minority – in the local municipal framework and more.

I shall set forth a few lines to describe the tapestry of society. We shall start from the circle of people who were distanced from tradition. Although they had assimilationist tendencies, they remained fiercely connected to their origins and the only manner they perceived in which they could extend aid and alleviate the plight of the masses, was through philanthropy and the provision of welfare. Several prominent, public figures also arose in Częstochowa from within these circles, who laid the foundations for the establishment of Jewish public projects within the city.

Even though these public figures were distanced from the masses in the national and cultural sense, their passionate interest in their People and their feelings of concern for their fate, grants them the historical right to be acclaimed.

On the other side of the camp, equally conspicuous, was the religious community, with its many houses of prayer, numbering hundreds and thousands of worshippers. These circles were known for their wide and effervescent activity, in the numerous institutions which gushed forth Torah and knowledge.

Both factions rise before our eyes, as if from a fantastic legend. Like a string of gleaming pearls, the characters rise above the horizon of life – one for personality, virtues and characteristics and the other on account of deeds, ways and customs – a multi–coloured mosaic of figures, striding at the head of the camp, chosen from among the multitudes, spiritual shepherds, scholars, rabbis, halachic authorities and Maskilim – on the one hand – and “everyday Jews”, who distinguished themselves in this way or another – on the other. All as one, and all together, they are as if interwoven in a tale which is far away and yet so close to our hearts.

The sages stated that “there is no earlier and later in the Torah[2]” and such is also the case when we come to enumerate Częstochowa's worthies, who lived and were active each one in his field – religious people, Enlightenment circles, trusted voluntary civil servants, thinkers and fighters for the ideals in which they believed with all their souls and might.


Reb Awrum Naftuli Ish–Horowicz

First and foremost, we shall set forth, here, a character who was known to many, many – the scion of prodigies and righteous men, linked to the Gerer Chassidic court and the famous Dziobas family – Reb Awrum Naftuli HaLevi Ish–Horowicz, the son of Reb Srulke Horowicz of Piotrków, who was the brotherin–law of the Gerer Rebbe, Our Teacher [Rebbe] Awrum Mordche Alter, of righteous and sainted memory. This Reb Awrum Naftuli, who had found his calling in Torah study for its own sake, would rise every day, even before dawn, to engage in study and would continue late into the night. As if this was not enough, he would “steal” from the hours of the day and night some “extra hours” for Torah study and contemplating Chassidism. It is therefore no wonder that his uncle, the Rebbe Reb Awrum Mordche Alter ztz”l, regarded him as the “silken young man”, the finest of all the young, married men.

One special chapter in Reb Juda [sic] Naftuli's magnificent life was that of the good deeds he did for individuals and for the public, whose main purpose of which was that they be done secretly.

In this area, he was greatly assisted by his wife, the modest Mrs Pesel hy”d. Their house was wideopen to any person requiring their aid. This home was truly a “wayfarers' hostel”, in which every hungry person ate his fill, found clothes to wear – and was also given money generously.

Being an insightful and sharp–witted man, circumspect and diligent in his actions, Częstochowa Jewry and their public figures set their eyes on him and found him to be the appropriate man to stand at the head of various public institutions, including in the lists of the “Agudas Yisroel” party, which had been founded by his uncle, the Gerer Rebbe ztz”l.

During the Holocaust, his house literally became a shelter for refugees and all despondent souls found assistance, as well as financial and moral support there. However, the suffering of the times broke his spirit, as well as his robust constitution. He fell ill and, on the bitter and untimely day, 18th Adar 5702 [7th March 1942], he returned his soul to its Maker, to the great sorrow of all those who had known him and held him dear, when he was only about 62 years of age.


The Engineer Reitzes

The polar opposite, as it were, was the figure of Eng. Reitzes, the categorical representative of the assimilationist circles. With the increase of antisemitism, he came closer to his own People and even developed great activity in the fields of culture and sport. Among other things, he founded the “Jewish Intellectuals' Club”.

And another personage from within this rich mosaic, one of the outstanding characters, unique in his qualities, was Reb Wolwisz Borensztajn z”l, who dedicated himself to fulfilling the precept of publicly propagating the Torah, by teaching hundreds of yeshivah pupils.

This arrangement was made possible by the acquiescence of the large Gold family to take upon itself the yoke of providing fully, in a dignified manner, for his family, in exchange for their share in the merit of maintaining this Torah institution.

All the currents of Chassidism in Congress Poland also belonged to this section of society and all the Rebbes, with their courts, were represented in Częstochowa.

The city counted, within it, four Chassidic courts, to which different parts of the religious population, with all its diversity, swarmed to find protection and refuge, or for advice and instruction in their practical, spiritual and emotional necessities.

Many activists emerged and arose from within these circles, who dedicated themselves to ample activities and who were also noted for their extraordinary social and political adroitness.

We shall now mention one family from this section, whose three sons excelled in Torah, wisdom and secular studies as one. This was:


The Fogel Family


Leibel Fogel


In those days, the eldest of these sons, Leibel, achieved the highest possible level of formal legal education. This was fiercely characteristic of his generation in the Polish Diaspora, which could not come to accept the area it had been allotted, and aspired to much wider horizons.

It is important to stress that this man's character had embedded, within it, the favourable trait of not coming to terms with circumstances and it is this that caused him to come into a conflict with an armed guard at the Skarżysko camp, in which he lost his life.

In the camp, he was actively connected with the P.P.S. Resistance. This proud man could not withstand the human humiliation and he paid for his human dignity with his life. He was one of the most prominent sharp–minded intellectuals of Częstochowa's young generation and people predicted he was destined for greatness. Some say the Resistance intended him to fill the lofty office of a minister, once liberation had come.

The third faction which was very prominent in the last period before the War was the Nationalist Zionist current to all its branches, which was known by the general epithets “Zionists” or “Mizrachi”. Both these movements had numerous personalities of spiritual greatness and stature.


The Bagel–Seller – “Like a Clock”

We shall also include, in this list, one colourful character from among the myriad of “simple folk” who contributed – in his special manner – to the city's unique style.

Today's numerous and diverse, technical appliances have made it so that finding out the correct time is a triviality. One has but to pick up the telephone or turn on the radio and receive the answer immediately.

Not so in bygone years. In those days, people would rise to the whistle of the train or to the nearby factory's siren and so on and so forth.

The Jews of Częstochowa, too, had a similar “siren” of sorts, in the form of the bagel–seller, who would make the round of the city's streets, calling out, in his hoarse voice, “Heisse beigel!” [Yid; Hot bagel].

It is doubtful whether anyone knew his name. To many, he was certainly anonymous, yet his entity was of paramount significance to those who linked his appearance with their “needs of the hour”. This man appeared in the courtyards of the city's buildings – every day – at exactly the same time and, upon hearing his voice hoarsely advertising his wares, people would set their clocks.

This dear Jew, who so devotedly took care to carry out his good deeds “for God and for people”, would rise early each morning to worship with the first prayer group, in order to have enough time to dedicate most of his day to acts of charity and goodwill.

Once, it happened that he was compelled to enter the study–hall straight from his daily occupation and, seeing himself dressed in his work apparel, he became thoroughly embarrassed, feeling as if he had mixed the holy with the profane, and his soul found no solace, before standing humbly before the Master of the World, and begging forgiveness for his “terrible impudence”.



[Now] we shall make mention of the institutions which were established and developed with a faithful hand (we are unable to mention all of them, for they were many, but we shall take note of some among them).

The Jewish Hospital served, in fact, as the medical centre, in the circumstances of the times, for the local community and the close vicinity. And having mentioned the hospital, it is impossible not to call to mind the memory of one of the Righteous Among the Nations[3], Dr Mikulski, the hospital's chief surgeon. A Jewish sense of mercy stuck to Dr Mikulski to such an extent, that he seemed as one of our own brethren, a Son of Israel. Many instances are known during which he visited the houses of poor people and, not only did he not require any payment, but he would leave money for medication and for coal to heat the dwelling.

In this golden chain of halls of Torah and Knowledge, [and] cultural–educational enterprises and institutions, a favourable mention should be made of the Keser Torah Yeshivah, which was part of a comprehensive nationwide network, from which emerged hundreds of sharp–minded Torah scholars, experts in all the treatises of the Talmud.

We have described but the smallest bit of the wide and diversified circle of cultural enterprises and institutions, in order to demonstrate the fact that, in our city, no part of the Jewish population which had nationalist [i.e. Zionist] tendencies was left without the opportunity to take part in the bustling nationalist life and to draw emotional and spiritual satisfaction from it.


The Hebrew Centre

It is no exaggeration to state that the “Hebrew Centre”, which included a wonderful library named the Biblioteka Judaistyczna [Pol.; Judaic Library], became, over the course of the years, the spiritual centre for Hebrew culture and Zionist activity.

Within the walls of this famous library was one more magnificent enterprise of the Bund movement, which established marvellous institutions, in order to instil spiritual values in the Jewish working masses of Częstochowa, who saw this movement as the “Jewish point” in their general world view.

An event, which took place during the Holocaust, in connection with this library, merits special mention. The centre was managed and also organised, by Mr Turner. At the beginning of the War, the library was packed up into crates and concealed in the building's cellar.

Once the first tempest had died down, Mr Turner concluded – probably after consulting other activists – to reinstitute the library and to resume operating it, by returning the books to the shelves, according to the catalogue. One may glean to what extent this matter touched his heart, from the fact that, one week prior to the burning of the synagogue, I met him by chance and, on this opportunity, he told me with recognisable satisfaction of his great success in reopening the library. He was filled with passion regarding the great benefit it would bring to the public in the “special” circumstances. Indeed, Turner had had no premonition that, just one week later, the building would be destroyed and all its contents burnt, as in fact happened. Only the outer walls and the fence built around it remained as a reminder of the disaster.


In Financial Life

One of the well–known Jewish contributions was to Poland's economy, particularly in the fields of wholesale and retail commerce, but also in industry and craftsmanship. This contribution of theirs, very sorrowfully, turned against them over the course of the years. Their success, and no less so the very fact that they were involved in these arenas, gave rise to a wave of envy and hatred, which brought, in its wake, acts of antisemitic instigation, accompanied by brutal measures [such as] pogroms, persecutions, etc.

But, as much as the haters of Jews aspired to cruelly drive the Jews out of various financial arenas and to tear them away from their sources of sustenance, they did not have the power to change the facts themselves, which were – that the Jews had been the pioneers of small and medium industry in Poland. Their part was particularly noticeable in Częstochowa, in the areas of metal and celluloid, to the development of which they had contributed greatly.

It is impossible to name them all, but we shall mention the more active and prominent people who were the leaders in their fields, such as Pinkus Landau's factory [and] the Horowicz, Rozensztajn and Ickowicz families – in the field of metallurgy; the Lewit family in textiles; the Kopiński family in timber and others. Besides having made a great contribution to the life of commerce and finance, all were also popular within both Jewish and non–Jewish financial circles and were invited to participate in financial deliberations and decisions, as they constituted an integral part of that general fabric.

As stated, the involvement and contribution to industry and commerce of Częstochowa Jews were only one part of their fruitful and diversified, general activity in all fields of life. And, as much as they were allowed to do so (for they were, after all, an oppressed racial minority), they enriched and developed, with their talents, capabilities, inventiveness and commitment, each and every field to which they turned and in which they invested their might and means.


A Manifestation of Pure Humanism

As we have set forth, here, the unforgettable characters from our city's rich panorama, it is impossible not to recall one personality, one of the most familiar and famous – that of the medico Kijak, whose elevated way of life, customs and deeds inspired admiration and esteem in all the social strata.

This man, who saw in his occupation, above all, a mission to bring healing to human afflictions, combined his deep knowledge with the everyday, Jewish quit–wittedness with which he was endowed, which enabled him to find the perfect synthesis with which to penetrate the inner recesses of a patient's mind, in order to bring him the desired relief.

Those in need of his services came to trust him in an unlimited manner and to also consider him as the family's medical advisor. Even after having turned to doctors and received medications, they did not use them before having the medico Kijak voice his opinion of them. Another distinctive feature was his loyalty to his elemental viewpoint that his occupation was, first and foremost, to extend aid to those in trouble. He viewed the issue of honorariums as a completely marginal matter, as if “by the way”.

This same medico Kijak was also a Torah scholar, who had never forgotten the studies of his youth and who was proficient in them to his last days.

In his world views, he was a passionate Zionist, and he also brought his children up in the spirit of loving the Jewish People, instilling in them the consciousness of the nation's revival by returning to the land of our fathers.

Our townspeople were both diverse and unique, each living according to his beliefs, conscience and customs. But one thing united them all – they were loyal servants to their people. They all drew from the same source – the glorious past – and, from it, they desired to build a bridge to a better future for their people.

Translator's and editor's footnotes:

  1. Popular aphorism from the Jewish Haskala movement. Return
  2. Talmud Bavli, Pesachim, p.6b; meaning that there is no absolute chronological order in the Torah, as events that occurred later in time can appear earlier in the Torah. Return
  3. [Editor's note] The Yad Vashem Database of the Righteous has no record of him, nor does the POLIN Museum, in Warsaw, have any record of him having been awarded this title. Return

[Pages 352-353]

The Glory and Radiance of Jewish Częstochowa

Dr Zvi Kantor z”l

How dear was this city of my childhood and youth! In the third building from the railway bridge over the Aleja, was our house, to which tens and hundreds used to come to my father, to ask his advice or to read a complicated casuistic essay [before him]. The house was a place to which yeshivah lads would come on Shabbes afternoon to study a page of Talmud or to eat Shabbes fruit.

I did not enjoy promenading on the Aleje. I did not go into the park – neither the new one nor the old. Barring these, I knew every stone and every footpath there. Who is able to encompass, in his thought, the entire splendour and radiance of bygone Jewish Częstochowa?!

There was a Jew in Częstochowa – Reb Leibale Landau was his name. He was a melamed. Who did not study with Reb Leibale Landau? Who, from the last three generations, does not remember his long cheder on ul. Mostowa, with the broom [?] and with the poor legless cripple, who sat in his low, little cart next to the cheder, with his green hat and little toys?

And how could one forget Reb Pinkus Arkusz, the melamed for the children of the wealthy, with whom, besides Torah, one also received a general education with an exam every semester?

Or take, for example, Reb Icze Amstower, with Reb Motl, with whom young lads would already learn a page [of the tractate] Nedarim with Ran[1], or would have even completed [the tractate] Chullin!

The Keser Torah yeshivah stood like a fortress in Częstochowa, with its deans Reb Michał Szwarcbaum and Reb Ruwele [Ruben] Rechtman, with its classes and levels, where half of the city's young married scholars, present and future Maskilim, high school students and intellectuals, [all] took in an incredible lesson of Talmudic wisdom and sharp–minded casuistry.

And the Jewish gymnasium – the glory and pride of the city, with its directors Prof Bałaban, Prof Prost, and pedagogues Rabbi Prof Hirszberg, Janowski, Lauer and others.


Scholars and Prodigies

A world of disciples, numbering in the thousands, indeed emerged from it [i.e. Częstochowa]! The proudest Jewish city Częstochowa, with its dozens of institutions, all in the service of Jewish society, with its wonderful Kehilla, with the rabbi and prodigy Reb Nuchem Asz, Berl Bocian (the first publisher of the first newspaper), the maggid Reb Mojsze Halter, Mendel Fogel, Szmul Goldsztajn and others.

Who does not remember the youth, the golden youth – from Axer's gymnasium through to Machzikei Hadas, with Reb Szyja Zeligman (son of Herszel, son of Szyja) at its head? Or [if one could] go back in time to the times of Reb Duwid'l of Lelów!


Częstochowa! How beloved and dear was this Jewish city to the Jews. Ulica Kozia, ulica Warszawska, ulica Targowa and the Nowy Rynek (New Market), ulica Krakowska and the Aleje – each and every street, which throbbed with Jewish life and where Jews lived, was close to the heart. Jewish life, Jewish ideas and creations – all were enveloped within the city's prayer shawl.

Jewish Częstochowa is no more! The city of my birth is in ruins. No other shall rise in its place!

Translator's footnote:

  1. Commentary by the 14th century rabbi, Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven. These particular studies are considered quite advanced. Return

[Pages 354-356]

With the Harassed Folk of Częstochowa

Izaak Wiszlicki

I remember the large, beautiful city of Częstochowa, where I was born and brought up, from my earliest childhood when, as the child of poor parents, I went to the Machzikei Hadas cheder. From my earliest years, abominable acts of antisemitism are etched into my memory, which I shall never forget.

In 1920, a father and son were murdered in their own dwelling above stables. They were the baker Szyja Gotajner and his son Zelig. Those who murdered these Jews were never found by the police.

Częstochowa had numerous industrial enterprises and factories, the majority of which belonged to Jewish owners, with thousands of Poles working there.

But, in the medium and small Jewish factories, such as Rozenberg, “Kosmos” and others, the workers were mainly Jews.


Great Need

I remember the poverty and the need which were great amongst the Jews of Częstochowa. There were homes – my family included – where, for Shabbes, they only cooked a pot of water, because there was nothing else to put into it.

The need was particularly great in winter, when many Jewish families did not have with what to kindle the cooker during the frosts. The water at home used to freeze and the ice on the [window] panes would only relent on Pesach Eve [viz. springtime].


Three Pogroms

I remember the pogrom in 1936, when the tavern owner Hercberg, in his tavern, shot the underworld identity Staszek Czerwinski, for attempted assault and robbery. The windows of Jewish shops were shattered. Jewish property and goods were robbed and Jewish warehouses were set on fire.

A second pogrom took place when Mancze Rozental, with his brother Zelme one Friday night in the Old Market, with an axe, killed another criminal, who had attacked them with a knife.

A third pogrom occurred in 1938 when, on Shabbes, Josel Pendrak shot the primary figure of the underworld, who had assaulted him, demanding he should provide him with liquor. In all these pogroms, the Endecja people and their collaborators took a large part.

The Jewish workers and the simple Jewish commoners would put up an opposition and drive the pogromszcziki [pogrom perpetrators] away from the Jewish streets.


The Enemy is Sharpening the Knife

I remember the electoral assembly for the last City Council elections, when the Bund set forth in unity with the left Poalei Zion. The assembly was held on Shabbes, at the Maccabihall on ulica Katedralna. The speakers were Rafail Federman from the Bund and Genia Lewi from the left Poalei Zion.

In her last words, she said that the enemy was sharpening its knife and preparing it for our shoulders[1]. These were prophetic words.

One year later, the War broke out.

Translator's footnote:

  1. Meaning the neck, which is at the height of the shoulders. Return


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